New General Hospital trauma center to have key feature for seismic safety

San Francisco General Hospital is poised to become the first hospital in The City to have a base-isolated foundation — the most earthquake-resistant design known today — when its new trauma center is set to open in December 2015, hospital officials said Tuesday.

Just days after a magnitude-6.0 temblor struck early Sunday near Napa — the largest earthquake to rattle the Bay Area in nearly 25 years — hospital officials are touting such sophisticated seismic-safety efforts included in the yearslong rebuilding of the only full-service trauma center for San Francisco and northern San Mateo County.

“We expect it to be able to withstand a major event,” Terry Saltz, director of the SFGH Rebuild program, said of the new hospital. “It's built to be as flexible and dynamic [as possible] with the ability to absorb the energy of the earthquake.”

Instead of being placed directly into the ground, the hospital will sit in a bathtub-type foundation that is 40 feet deep on one end and 25 feet deep on the other. Rolling disks between the building and foundation will allow it to glide 30 inches in any direction during an earthquake, according to Saltz.

The aim was to have the new hospital operational in the event of a disaster, including a severe earthquake, since it will serve as the hub of San Francisco's health care emergency response.

“Hospitals are very concerned about safety, whether it's the care delivered or the building where it is delivered,” said Lynn Baskett, interim regional vice president of the San Francisco section of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California.

The building is designed to center itself, rather than buckle or drift out of alignment, in an earthquake up to magnitude-8.0. That's important, hospital officials say, since the facility is located about 6 miles from the San Andreas fault and there is a 62 percent probability a magnitude-6.7 earthquake or greater will hit the Bay Area by 2032.

Hospital officials noted other seismically advanced features in the new hospital as well.

For instance, the glass in the building is designed to slide in its tracks, minimizing the amount that could break in an earthquake. Glass that sits in a rigid frame, on the other hand, cannot be twisted and turned and therefore breaks more easily.

Underground emergency water tanks will store 50,000 gallons of domestic water as well as have the capacity to hold an additional 50,000 gallons of wastewater. Emergency generators will also supply about 50 percent of power to the building, including for its critical systems and trauma services. The new hospital's emergency room will also feature 58 beds, compared to 27 at its current facility.

General Hospital's current trauma center was built in 1976, and it has not been retrofitted to meet today's seismic-safety standards for acute care hospitals. However, it along with the buildings on campus — at least one of which dates back to 1915 — escaped with minimal damage in the 1989 magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“There were some ceramic roof tiles that had to be repaired, [but] structurally the buildings remained sound,” Saltz said.

Hospital officials plan to retrofit the current hospital and other existing structures on campus through reinforcement of structural members and fiber wrapping after the new hospital opens, and may seek funding for such projects through a bond in 2015 or 2016.

Meanwhile, three new hospitals slated to open Feb. 1 at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus — Benioff Children's Hospital, Betty Irene Moore Women's Hospital and Bakar Cancer Hospital — are also designed to withstand a magnitude-8.0 earthquake on the San Andreas fault, said Cindy Lima, executive director of the UCSF Mission Bay Hospitals project.

On Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee and Patrick Otellini, The City's director of earthquake safety, toured downtown Napa and the mobile-home area that sustained significant damage in Sunday's temblor. Otellini said the destruction is a reminder of the importance of retrofits.

“If you lose these buildings in an earthquake, that sense of place changes,” Otellini said of historic buildings, such as the Napa courthouse that partly crumbled in Sunday's quake. “It becomes all the more important to work on these historic resources to retrofit them.”

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